Indiana coach: Ohio State weaknesses are hard to find

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett throws a pass against Bowling Green during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett throws a pass against Bowling Green during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When Indiana coaches started looking for weaknesses in Ohio State’s game, someone noticed the Buckeyes’ punter Cameron Johnston wasn’t listed among the NCAA leaders at his position. So he must not be very good, right?

Turned out that Johnston hadn’t punted enough this year to even be listed in the NCAA stats. Johnston has punted just 11 times in four games, but his average — 50.6 — is among the best in the nation.

So much for that.

“I don’t know if you’re a great punter if you’d want to go to Ohio State, to tell you the truth, because they don’t use him,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson quipped this week.

In other words, the weaknesses are really hard to find.

Fresh from an overtime upset of Michigan State last week, Indiana (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) visits Columbus on Saturday to play No. 2 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) whose weapons are so numerous, Wilson said, that preparation is difficult.

“They play a lot of guys and they play hard,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of talent and a great competitive spirit on that team.”

Other things to watch for when Indiana visits Ohio State:

CONFIDENCE BOOST: Indiana receiver Mitchell Paige said the team’s confidence level was high even before the Hoosiers knocked off Michigan State in OT. If the Hoosiers can beat Michigan State, why not the Buckeyes?

“We’re starting to see we can do some things when we listen to coaching, understand more game plan — there was a lot of really good film study last week — knowing exactly what we were trying to do,” said Paige, who is tied for the team lead with 18 receptions for 217 yards and got his first TD of the season last week.

“We can build on that this week and get even a little bit better. We’ll only be more confident and give ourselves a real chance on Saturday,” Paige said.

Wideouts Nick Westbrook (18 receptions, 370 yards, four TDs) and Ricky Jones (16 receptions, 350 yards, one TD) also will be competing for quarterback Richard Lagow’s attention Saturday.

IT STARTS WITH JT: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has often said that Tim Tebow, his Heisman trophy-winning quarterback at Florida, is the gold standard for team leaders.

Meyer said this week that quarterback J.T. Barrett is “very close” to Tebow status in terms of leadership qualities.

“Yeah, J.T., in his own way, is exactly on the same level as Tim, and those are two elite leaders,” Meyer said. “There are some other guys, but, yeah, J.T. is certainly at that level.”

Barrett said he’s honored that Meyer would talk about him and Tebow in the same conversation.

“I think there’s something with great players, you can tell that everything is so personal,” Barrett said. “And I think when you watched (Tebow) play he was passionate and everything was personal to him. Everything mattered, every little thing, too, it all mattered and was personal to him, and that’s why he was so fun to watch.”

Same with Barrett?

“I’m getting there,” he said.

LANDERS RISING: Among the many pleasant surprises for Ohio State this season is an undersized redshirt freshman defensive tackle named Robert Landers.

Generously listed as 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, Landers — from perennial state powerhouse Huber Heights Wayne — leads the team with five tackles for a loss and is tied for seventh in the Big Ten with 1.25 tackles for a loss per game.

Typically giving up several inches and 20 pounds or more to offensive linemen, Landers is quick and able to use his low center of gravity as leverage against larger men.

“I’m a little short for my size, but it plays to my advantage,” he said, noting that defensive line coach Larry Johnson likes to refer to him as “gravity challenged.”

Said Meyer: “You can’t have a whole defensive line like that, but he creates havoc in there.”